With the W-League taking place in the Australian summer, the league has had the fortune of attracting both local and international players to the competition.
While Melbourne City (champions) and Canberra United (premiers) took out the plaudits in the 2016/17 season, the current 2017/18 season has been much more even. As a result, the Top 10 of 2017 encompasses players who have had a substantial impact in both seasons.
10. Arin Gilliland (Newcastle Jets)
Unlike a number of the other internationals on this list, Arin Gilliland did not arrive in Australia with a big reputation or extensive resume. In fact in Season 9 the American had just come of a rookie season with Chicago Red Stars. Thankfully for Newcastle Jets’ supporters, her quality was immediately evident. A defender for the Red Stars, coach Craig Deans has utilised the 25-year-old in a more advanced position and it has paid dividends.
With her impressive tank, Gilliland has played roles as a box to box midfielder or an out and out striker. Her midfield work and goals helped the Jets come to within a whisker of qualifying for the 2016/17 finals series. In the 2017/18 season, thanks to the inclusion of Tori Huster and Emily van Egmond, Gilliland has been allowed even more latitude going forward. Her return has been five goals and has become the only international to score two hattricks with her effort against ladder leaders Brisbane Roar. Newcastle are on the verge of a first finals series since Season 1 and Gilliland has been an influential figure.
9. Natasha Dowie (Melbourne Victory)
You would think that a striker in a team that has struggled in the past three seasons would have few opportunities to make a meaningful impact. However, it has been quite the opposite for English forward Natasha Dowie.
Since signing for Melbourne Victory in 2015, Dowie has been one of the premier forwards in the competition. In 2016/17 she finished third in the Golden Boot race with nine goals and in 2017/18 is equal 4th with five goals. Those five goals represent over 50% of Victory’s goals in Season 10. Dowie is a powerful forward who can play with her back to goal, holding up the ball and play in teammate but she can also attack the space in a quick counter attack. The 29-year-old also has excellent positioning as she is often where the ball falls for those poacher’s goals.
8. Lydia Williams (Melbourne City)
It can be a lonely job being a goalkeeper. Often the spotlight shines harshest in the worst of moments but in Season 9, when the heat was on, Lydia Williams was cool under pressure.
That Melbourne City were even in a position to challenge for back-to-back titles was in a large part to her exemplary saves to often keep City in the game. That the goalkeeper for the champions made the most saves in the season demonstrates just how crucial she was to their championship run. Williams’ value is not just in her shot-stopping talent, but also in how she integrates into the possession based style of Melbourne City. Therefore it was no surprise that the 29-year-old was named the W-League Goalkeeper of the Year for a record third time.
By her incredibly high standards, Williams has not had the same consistency in Season 10, however, the custodian still has the ability to make game saving stops when City requires it.
7. Ashleigh Sykes (Canberra United)
One of the hardest working players in the W-League, Ashleigh Sykes has always been known for her unselfishness and willingness to work for the best for the team. But in the past couple of seasons, the best thing for Canberra United has been Sykes’ scoring goals.
Another foundation W-League player, Sykes has learned how to utilise and harness her pace out on the wing. Seeing Sykes drive to goal on the wing is a full back’s nightmare and in front of goal she has a composure and maturity that makes her lethal in the six yard box.
A measure of her importance is the struggles Canberra United have endured in her absence this season. A long time reliable strike partner for Michelle Heyman, the loss of “Sykesy” for a number of matches has led to a stall in the United attack and their fans will be hoping she is back on the park soon.
6. Jess Fishlock (Melbourne City)
There are few players in the W-League where the team’s fortunes depends on their performances. Even in a star studded team like Melbourne City, Jess Fishlock is one such player.
With her all action style, Fishlock, like few others, can impose her will on a contest and in Season 9 she did just that for City. Whether in a deep lying playmaker role or as an advanced attacking midfielder, “Welsh Wizard” is a master of working the space. Often her goals are due to the ability to anticipate the next phase of play and use her jets, and will, to be there. Technically Fishlock is excellent and she loves a long range effort on the televised Match of the Round!
5. Alanna Kennedy (Sydney FC / Melbourne City)
In the age where attackers gain a majority of the love and praise, Alanna Kennedy is a reminder of the value of a dominant and well rounded defender. For the Matildas and for Sydney FC, Kennedy was a tower at centre back in all facets of the game. On the ball she often kick started the attack with her short passing game or with a diagonal defence splitting ball to open up the Sydney FC attack. Defensively Kennedy was nigh on impossible to defeat aerially and it is noticeable that – although just 22 – she is the defensive general.
All those qualities are why come the new season, the defending champions came knocking on the door. In Season 9 Kennedy has been solid but her new partnership with Lauren Barnes has not been without their moments. However, if City are to press for a third straight championship, Kennedy’s control in the backline will be key.
4. Yukari Kinga (Canberra United / Melbourne City)
Yukari Kinga entered the W-League in Season 9 with the anticipation and expectation that surrounds a World Cup winner and Olympic silver medallist, and boy did she deliver.
The experienced midfielder was the anchor for the Canberra United side that claimed a record third Premier’s Plate. A masterful reader of the game, Kinga is that rare player who appears to have all the time in the world. With that time she is precise in possession, has excellent positional awareness and, higher up the park, can do damage on the scoreboard with a defence splitting pass or a timely goal.
Such was her impact in her first W-League season that City chased hard to secure her services for the 2017/18 season and already Kinga has become a cornerstone of their midfield.
3. Steph Catley (Melbourne City)
For those who love the evolution of the modern full back, there is no greater sight than a fullback in full flight bombing on down the flank.
For five seasons now Melbourne City captain Steph Catley has been the premier full back in the league and one of the best in the world. Catley is a hard working defender who can play both sides of the ball. Her value is those lung bursting runs to support the attack finished off with a well weighted cross on her left foot. Equally though, the 23-year-old’s aptitude in reading the play – thanks to time spent at centre back with the Matildas – means she often snuffs out danger before it can materialise.
2. Katrina Gorry (Brisbane Roar)
While Brisbane Roar missed on the finals in Season 9, it wasn’t for the lack of effort from midfielder Katrina Gorry. That they are currently (at the time of writing) on top of the W-League ladder is in a large part to this wonderfully balanced player.
An understated performer, Gorry is at the heart of the Brisbane Roar – and Matildas – midfield. If you look for it, you can see her impact of almost every minute in a game, in the control of the rhythm and the tempo but also in the ferocity of the midfield contest. There is a reason why a Gorry yellow card is considered a badge of honour by Roar supporters. In Season 10 she continues to be the premier midfielder in the competition with the ability to pick out a five metre or 20 metre pass to score a 25 metre “Gorry Special.”
1. Sam Kerr (Perth Glory)
Explosive. Dynamic, Lethal. Those are all words that can apply to Sam Kerr in 2017. It was a year where she picked up the Most Valuable Player award in two different leagues and entered the – at times contentious – conversation for one of the best in the world.
There has already been plenty written about the forward and her on field presence but one noteworthy change in 2017 has been her maturity. That maturity is evident in every part of her game. From her diligence and off field preparation to her ability to make the right decisions in the moment. The right run, the right pass and 2017 the right execution. Kerr’s performances led Perth Glory to the Season 9 W-League Grand Final and as the current Golden Boot leader in Season 10, keeping her fit and on the park will shape Glory’s chances again this season.